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Carl Hudson
December 7, 2016 | Carl Hudson

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Ruby Cabernet – What’s the Difference?

Let’s start this segment by discussing Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, two of the five varietals allowed in French Bordeaux red wines (the others ?  Merlot, Petite Verdot & Malbec).  Cabernet Sauvignon is not an ancient varietal, having been developed as a cross between Cabernet Franc (red) and Sauvignon Blanc (white) in the late 1600’s.  This ancestry was confirmed as recently as 1996 by DNA testing at UC-Davis.  Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab S) is the world’s most widely planted grape, and arguably the most famous varietal.  It is grown in almost every major wine region in the world, and has found special success in California (Napa Vly), Washington (Columbia River Vly), Australia, Chile, Spain and Italy (Super Tuscan blends).  Cab S is also the most widely planted varietal in the state of Texas, estimated at well-over 600 acres. 

Cabernet Sauvignon has reasonably thick skin which provides protection, color and tannins.  The grape has good resistance to typical vine diseases and pests, and buds late to avoid spring frosts.  This hardy varietal has often been called the “King of Red Grapes.”  The wines tend to be full-bodied with plenty of tannins and good acidity which help them age.  Blackcurrant is a dominant fruit aroma & flavor.  Notes of mint, cedar, bell pepper, fine tobacco, pencil shavings, along with cherry, black olive and eucalyptus are also characteristics found in Cab S. 

Cabernet Franc (Cab F) is typically lighter, both in body and color, than its off-spring, Cab S.  Cab F can lend finesse and elegance to blends and show these characteristics in full varietal bottlings, like those from the Loire Valley in France, and Columbia Valley in Washington.  Cab F is usually a minor component in Bordeaux blends, behind Cab S and Merlot.  The primary fruit aroma and flavor is red cherry, with aromas of tobacco, lead pencil, bell pepper, cassis, violets, black pepper and other fruit notes of raspberry and strawberry.  Cab F wines tend to be less tannic with a smoother mouth-feel than Cab S. 

Cabernet Franc buds and ripens at least one-to-two weeks earlier than Cab S, and has been widely planted in cooler growing regions, i.e., Loire Valley, Washington, New Jersey, New York (esp. Long Island) and southern Canada.  Interestingly, it does quite well in Texas, also, especially north of the Hill Country and on the High plains.  Including Cab F in vineyards and blended wines is sort of like an “insurance policy” against late season bad weather during which Cab S may not fully ripen. 

Ruby Cabernet is a hybrid cross between Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon developed by Dr. Harold Olmo at UC-Davis in 1936.  The goal was to couple Carignan’s high yields and heat tolerance with Cab S’s power and finesse.  Vines were released to commercial growers in 1949.  Ruby Cabernet, with its heat tolerance and drought resistance, gained widespread popularity with growers in CA’s hot Central Valley and became a key ingredient in bulk red blends (jug & box wines) from the 1960’s to present.  The wine has good color, a pleasant fruitiness based on cherry flavor, can be earthy in character (like Cab S & Cab F), but is limited in complexity.  And, like most hybrid varietals, Ruby Cabernet wines are not very tannic.  Under the proper growing conditions and with limited yields, no more than 5-6 tons/acre, Ruby Cabernet can produce good quality, enjoyable red wines.  However, its primary use remains as a blending component. 

Several currently popular 4.0 Cellars wines contain one or more of these grapes.  The following wines can certainly enhance your holiday wine enjoyment. 

Brennan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Texas

Brennan Vineyards Winemaker’s Choice “W” III N.V. Texas

Ruby Cabernet 37%, Merlot 35%, Mourvedre 10%, Montepulciano 10%, &

Roussanne 8%. 

Brennan Vineyards Portejas Dessert Wine N.V. Texas

Ruby Cabernet 58%, Tempranillo 19%, Nero d’Avola 10%, Merlot 6%, Cabernet

Sauvignon 4%, Syrah 3%. 

Lost Oak Winery Cabernet Franc 2014 Texas

Cabernet Franc 92% & Malbec 8%.

Lost Oak Winery Holiday (Red) 2015 TX High Plains

          Merlot 47%, Ruby Cabernet 38%, & Tempranillo 15%. 

Lost Oak Winery Dolce Rouge 2015 TX High Plains

Ruby Cabernet 60%, Merlot 20%, & Tempranillo 20%.  


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